The Rail Trail was opened in 2000 by the NZ Department of Conservation. It is 152kms (94 miles) along the route of a disused railway. We decided to ride it over 4 days ending with a trip on a remaining train line into Dunedin. We booked a package including bikes, helmets, accommodation, restaurants and transport at each end of the journey – all we had to do was ride the bikes. That turned out to be the hard part.
Below are the notes we made at the end of each day’s ride.
Day I, Wednesday 2 January
We were picked up from our accommodation outside Arrowtown promptly at 7.15am. The minibus went on to Queenstown to pick up other customers and drop someone at the airport. Exactly an hour later we passed the end of our road! After a further hour we arrived at the Trail Journeys depot in Clyde where we went through our itinerary, had bikes and helmets fitted and watched an information video. At 10.15, three hours after the pickup, we were ready to start. By then the thermometer outside a nearby pharmacy showed it was 30deg.
The first 8km was easy, took us into a small town, Alexandra, where we had coffee and a sandwich. The rest of the morning was hot, hard and seemed never ending! The route went through open countryside, crossed very few roads and passed no buildings other than remnants of railway structures.
After frequent water stops and a snack we arrived at our lunch stop, The Chatto Tavern, around 2pm. By then we’d cycled 26kms. Revived by a pint of coke each, chips and chowder and urged by the landlady to get going as the temperature was rising, we left at 3pm to tackle Dragon Hill. Battling an alternating headwind and crosswind we struggled up.
Thoughts ran along the lines of ‘Who’s idea was this?’, ‘Why did we sign up for it’ and ‘How do we get out of doing any more?’
Finally we crested the hill and the rest of the way was down.
Our ’boutique’ accommodation, Pitches Stores, in the historic township of Ophir was a welcome sight. Like Arrowtown, Ophir was a gold prospectors’ settlement in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike Arrowtown it’s now a quiet place with a small population, there’s a town trail of historic buildings, but, unlike Arrowtown, these seem to be mostly original facades only.
We’d cycled 40kms to earn our dinner and drinks in the bar!
Day 2, Thursday 3 January 2019
We can seldom justify eating everything available at breakfast – today was the day!
We set off before 9am, visited the local store for supplies and were back on the trail by 9.15. It was a beautiful day, yesterday’s wind had dropped.
Gently uphill, ‘Good morning, how’s it going, we passed you yesterday’ – ‘you certainly did’, not very diplomatic – Alan picked up speed, rode along chatting happily, remembered me and reverted to our usual, slow pace.
We thought today would be uphill to start with, this feels like down, a pointless debate about gears keeps us going for the first few kilometres.
We soon reached the first stop, Lauder Stationside Cafe, for coffee and, realising it was almost the only stop today, bought a takeaway pasta salad for lunch.
Then a glorious swoop down, a tunnel, two tunnels then gently up. You need your torch for the tunnels!
‘How’s your ride been today’ ‘Great, what about yours?’ Looking over my shoulder to hear the reply, skidded and fell off!
A scraped knee and bruised elbow later, on we went.
Today’s ride was fun, varied and interesting. On and on until we reached Hayes’ Engineering Works and Homestead. Today it’s a cafe and museum, telling the story of nineteenth century pioneers from the UK midlands who developed engineering solutions for New Zealand farmers some of which are still in production today.
We rode 35km today -and now we’re startled to find the next 2 days are each more than 40km. We’ll make an early start and hope it’s a downhill glide in kind weather tomorrow.
Tonight’s accommodation, just outside Oturehua is very cosy and has a lovely view. We’re the only guests tonight so we’re getting special attention.It’s pretty windy here and our hosts have lots of flags flying in the breeze. That meant that we could do our washing before supper and have it back dry when we got back. We ate fish pie at Oturehua Inn fraternising with our fellow riders, free transport there and back was provided by the pub.
Day 3, Friday 4 January 2019
Tender bottoms when we set off today!
Cheese omelette and mushrooms was a good start plus it was overcast and cool, very refreshing after the heat of the last two days. We expected a 12km climb but reached the summit after only 6km. After which it was, as the sign says, downhill all the way.
Ranfurly was a nice Art Deco sort of place on the way today. We bought bread and cheese for lunch there – then succumbed to a pie in a pub on the way.
We had a good day’s cycling and reached our destination before 2pm. Have we mentioned there are old station buildings, bridges, even toilets, along the trail?
Tonight’s accommodation at Kokonga is quite luxurious with another fabulous mountain view. We had an excellent dinner with four other guests, all trail riders. They have a good, local wine list too!
Day 4, Saturday 5 January 2019
Today is the last day and we have a train to catch. We’ve been worrying about this, off and on, every day as well as a few nights. So we’re out on the trail early, hardly anyone else about.
Another 43km later, a final tunnel, we’re in Middlemarch and it’s over with time to spare. We’re already talking about ‘next time’ and possibility of electric bikes!
Our reward was a glorious ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway with it’s mixture of antique and modern carriages. At the glorious Dunedin station we were met by Beryl, our Servas host for the next two nights.